Ma Gui (1851-1941), also named Ma ShiQing, was the owner of his family business, the Yongyi lumber company. His company had the honor of supplying wood for the emperor’s palace. This gave him frequent entry to the palace. Because of his family business his martial arts peers gave him the nickname ‘Wood Ma’.
When he was young the family business did well and they were prosperous, which afforded him a good education. At twelve years old he started to learn baguazhang with Dong Haichuan. Because his father was a sworn brother with Yin Fu (at this time in China it was common for men to become sworn brothers, to support each other no matter what), and to keep with proper Chinese customs and respect, as well as to maintain the proper generation order, Yin Fu was named as his teacher instead of Dong.
In Dong Haichuan’s later years baguazhang was very popular in Beijing. Many wanted to make a living teaching it. But since most of his apprentices came from the lower levels of society they were always trying to prove themselves and it was hard to avoid injury or even death in fights to prove themselves, in order to make a name and a living. This went against the wishes of Dong Haichuan. He decided to teach someone who was literate, did not get into fights, and had no problems of livelihood, so he chose Ma Gui as his lineage holder.
Ma Gui’s natural talent surpassed many, and with Dong’s personal tuition and diligent training, he became the instrument for recording baguazhang. He received the most systematic development in baguazhang. His deep skills eventually surpassed all of Dong’s apprentices and others to come.
Once Ma Gui’s skills were fully developed his arms were said to be like an apes, hanging to his knees, his abdomen and back were thick and strong, his body light as a swallow, and his eyes flashed out from a benevolent face. He participated in many challenge matches and was never bested. Countless martial arts masters all fell in defeat from Ma Gui’s outstanding abilities.
Ma Gui was the only one to gain Dong Haichuan’s internal training such as lightness skills, hard palms, wrist hitting, fire wheel palms, pressure points, joint controls, controlling, grabbing, and meridian path manipulation. He became famous for these. He was also well known for his crab posture zhuangzhang (ramming palms), which were heavy, full, hard, and fierce. His skills were truly superlative.
Ma Gui alone gained the secrets of baguazhang. He treasured the teaching of Dong Haichuan his whole life. He was high-minded and loved the martial arts so much so, that he was unwilling to lightly transmit his learning. He would advise other students of baguazhang, but respected his teacher’s wish of ‘do not transmit to those unworthy’, and was known for being stingy about passing on skills or taking students of his own.
Because of Ma Gui’s upbringing and education, as well as his position with the Imperial household he developed, refined tastes and interests. One example is he enjoyed painting. He would often paint crabs and because of his skill in the crab postures and crab style of walking the circle, he earned a new nickname of ‘Crab Ma’.
In 1930, because of his position as leader of baguazhang at the time, he gathered together as many other practitioners as he could to erect Dong Haichuan’s memorial stele.
He had these twenty words written on the front side of the stele:
“Hai Fu Shou Shan Yong, Qiang Ding Guo Ji, Ming Guang Da, Dao De Jian Wu Ji”.
These twenty words have a very deep meaning. Because of this we will write more about them at a later time. Basically though they are the words of succession, Ma Gui had them written to prevent baguazhang from the splitting into branches and the dilution of the system.
The first word ‘Hai’ is from Dong Haichuan’s name, as the first generation, the ‘Fu’ is from Yin Fu’s, representing the second generation, but the rest are for further generations to use. Each word has a meaning, and they can also be broken into four sets of five, which also has a meaning of its own.
That Ma Gui could write something like this really shows his understanding and the power he had over the Bagua world.
The later half of Ma Gui’s life (1910-1941) was full of hardships. He lost his family business due to the end of the Qing dynasty. Since he was supplying wood for the Imperial family, when power changed hands he was out of business. In his later years he ultimately lost everything and became destitute.
In his hour of greatest need though, two people came to Ma Gui’s side that had noble characters. This created the opportunity for the lifeblood of baguazhang to continue to flow.
Li Shao’an Also named Li MengRui (1888-1980), was from Haiyang in Shandong province. He ran a restaurant called YuChun Lou (Jade Spring Restaurant), in the Qianmen district of Beijing. During his youth he trained hard to learn martial skill, he was brave and daring, willing to do anything and everything. This would help him very much later in life when things were the hardest. His whole life he was generous and heroic. Just when Ma Gui had descended to poverty and given up hope, Li Shao’an generously supported him. His kindness, friendship, and morality touched Ma Gui deeply. In return, for the generous and upstanding character of Li Shao’an, Ma Gui gave all he had left in the world, his baguazhang. Li Shao’an was the most important person in the continuance of the Ma Gui School of Baguazhang. Li Shao’an had exceptional skills, and was particularly skilled at daishou (dragging hand). Because of this he earned the nickname ‘Iron arm Li’. Li Shao’an was close friends with Li Wenbiao, Yin Yuzhang, Liu Bin, Liang Zhenpu, and other famous masters in baguazhang circles. Because of his wonderful character and generosity he earned another nickname ‘Surpassing eldest brother’. To give just one example of his character, when soldiers in the Tongzhou district of Beijing killed Li Wenbiao, Li Shao’an, regardless of his own safety, and by himself, claimed the body and ensured that his martial friend was properly buried. During the Cultural Revolution, Li Shao’an suffered greatly, and was sent to his hometown of Haiyang, Shandong. Because of this he lost everything just as Ma Gui had, to the point where survival was questionable. Even in his poorest years in the countryside, when he experienced the fullest extent the lows that people could go to around him, and human feelings were at their unkindest, he wore plain cotton and ate clear gruel. Even this though could not touch his strong spirit. He faced hardship and difficulties with fearlessness and elegance. His martial skill and his quality of character is the model that I seek for myself. I do not have one-fourth of Li Shao’an’s deep skills, but as to his heart, I perhaps know a tenth. In the history of baguazhang, the story of Li Shao’an has moved my soul and fueled my dreams for over twenty years. I wish I could express more here but this is just an introduction. I will say more about this wonderful martial artist and man later in the members section. At present no lineage recipient of Li Shao’an has been found. I hope that one day we may find one, and that his school can be directly transmitted.
Liu Wanchuan. Liu Wanchuan, also named Liu YiHai (November 1, 1906 to November 6, 1991), was from Haiyang in Shandong province. In his youth he studied baguazhang from his uncle Liu Qingfu (Yin Fu’s apprentice, and one of the key figures in Yin Fu School of Baguazhang) together with his cousin Liu Xuehai (also named Liu YiShan). The two of them were well known for their skills in the village. Because of his family’s poverty Liu Wanchuan was only able attend school for three years. He had to quit to go to work in the fields to help support his family. From then on he worked to support his family, but never neglected his martial arts training. He became a true inheritor of the style of Liu Qingfu. When he was seventeen (about 1923) he moved to Beijing to make a living, and settled into the Qianmen district. This was very close to his uncle Liu Qingfu’s (‘Old rice Liu’) rice business on the grain store road. Between 1923 and 1931 he learned baguazhang with Yin Fu’s son, Yin Yuzhang. Every day he would get up at dawn and walk from his home to Qihua gate (present day Chaoyang gate) to train with Yin Yuzhang. This meant a walk of over 10 km every day, in all weather, no matter how hot or cold, without a break. He gained the true transmission of Yin Yuzhang’s baguazhang. From the early 1930s Liu Wanchuan worked as an accountant at the restaurant, YuChun, which Li Shao’an owned, they were also from the same village. As Li Shao’an took on the care of Ma Gui, Liu Wanchuan also helped, and also gained the full teaching of Ma Gui’s School of Baguazhang. He became the most important person in the continuation and spreading of Ma Gui’s baguazhang. Liu Wanchuan was naturally a good-hearted person, always tolerant, generous, and trustworthy. Without thought to gaining a reputation, he diligently sought out and trained the martial arts without cease. He developed his baguazhang to the highest level. That Ma Gui’s School of Baguazhang survives is due entirely to the efforts and skills of Liu Wanchuan. Liu Wanchuan received the full flavour of Ma Gui’s transmission, he became excellent at the crab palm continuous zhuangzhang (ramming palms), his stepping was skilled and refined, and his fali (power striking) was heavy. He perfected meridian point manipulation, tendon grabbing, meridian blocking and other high skills. He systematically continued Ma Gui’s special skills of wrist striking, daishou (dragging hand), qiezhang (cutting palm), fire wheel palm, fanbeichui (backfist), and other hard striking skills. Liu Wanchuan’s entire life was about baguazhang, and his whole being was concentrated on baguazhang. If we can understand his life and being, we can come to know how high his achievements were in baguazhang. His students once calculated that if all of his circles walked in baguazhang were added together over a lifetime, he could have walked three times around the world! Circle-walking is not running, nor is it walking along the road, and certainly is not strolling along lightheartedly. It is fully concentrated, intensely powerful, completely united whole body power deep into the bones and tendons. In Liu Wanchuan’s later years, once he was sick and his mind seemed a little unclear. His daughter was concerned for his mental healthy and attempted to speak with him, but he did not respond. She then quoted a line from the baguazhang classics, and Liu Wanchuan immediately completed the quotation – all 108 four-character lines, smoothly and fluently, without one character wrong. Liu Wanchuan had only three years of formal schooling. Because of this he did not have the level of literacy to express his feelings and understandings of baguazhang. I do, however, have a daily journal that he kept from when he was over 80 years old. In it he notes his daily training regime and how many repetitions he would do of each movement. He loved baguazhang so much that even after he was 80 years old he treated his practice as seriously as he did when he trained with Ma Gui. In Liu Wanchuan later years he still walked to the park twice a day, morning and evening, to train. The day that he passed away, he came home from his morning training session, ate breakfast, and told his daughter he was going to take a rest. He lay down, and, about two hours later, passed peacefully. He never missed a meal or a session of training! After Liu Wanchuan had mastered what Ma Gui had taught him he returned one time to his hometown of Shandong in 1944. His high level of deep kungfu and skills astounded the villagers. Even now many people in the area around Haiyang County sing his praises. From 1981 on, he taught baguazhang openly in Taoran Pavilion Park, teaching over fifty people in a class. It is from Liu Wanchuan that the Ma Gui School of Baguazhang has gradually spread throughout China and now to the world. To see more about Liu Wanchuan, please go to the article ‘In memory of Liu Wanchuan’ in the members section.
Ma Gui’s baguazhang is very lucky, if not for Liu Wanchuan it would be lost. Thankfully, he taught a few people that followed him for many years and were able to learn the whole system. Here is an introduction to the main students of Liu Wanchuan.
Yu Zhiming (1920- ) was from Haiyang in Shandong. He started learning baguazhang from Liu Qingfu when he was sixteen, and trained with him for three years. Then, because of the disruptions caused by bandits in the area, he moved to Beijing. At this time he had a large family and very little income. So, he stopped training for some time so that he could focus on feeding them. He dedicated himself to learning to become an herbalist, hoping that would bring in more income. Unfortunately, due to the stress of the times, his lack of income, and unhealthy lifestyle he developed a stomach ailment. He would suffer from this for over twenty years. In the 1960s he met up with Liu Wanchuan. He became like an elder brother to Yu, and Yu started training with him. It was like a spring rain after a long drought. He began to heal and grow once again. After over twenty years of intense training morning and evening, and diligent seeking, he cured his illness completely, his spirit was clear and strong, and remains this way today. Like Liu Wanchuan before him, he systematically inherited the Ma Gui baguazhang skills. He excels in tanzhang (reaching palm), chuanzhang (piercing palm), shoulder striking, zhuangzhang (ramming palm), daishou (dragging hand), yazhang (pressing palm), gaizhang (covering palm), and other high skills. His kicks are skillful and varied. His ‘dan tien’ (A Daoist practice where qi is stored in the navel region) training is very special. At ninety, his ‘dan tien’ is thick, rounded, and full. Yu Zhiming started to teach baguazhang in 1988, and only taught about a dozen people. Among them are Tu Hingjian, Li Wanjun, and myself (Li Baohua).
Fan Yaohua (1934 – ) was from Ji county in Hebei province. He started working with Liu Wanchuan in 1952 in the same workshop of the Tongrentang pharmaceutical factory. Fan had a naturally weak constitution, and from the age of twenty often had shortness of breath and even fainting spells. Liu Wanchuan sympathized with him, and took him aside and secretly told tell him, that since he was like that from his youth, if he didn’t save himself by training, then he would never get better. At this time due to the Cultural Revolution things such as martial arts were forbidden. To train in them or even talk about them could get you arrested or even killed. From 1959 on Fan trained with Liu, altogether following him for over thirty years. Now Fan Yaohua is almost eighty years old, and his voice is clear as a bell, his body is light and strong, and he walks like the wind. He is living proof of how a lifetime of baguazhang can bring you to a healthy old age. Because of Liu Wanchuan’s generosity to help Fan, even when faced with possible punishment, he never forgot and has always been as open and sharing as his teacher was with him. He trains baguazhang for enjoyment, he is someone who really trains for fun and health, he has unselfishly taught many people. Yu Zhiming introduced me to Fan Yaohua in Tiantan park, in 2000. He taught me the Crab form, the Monkey form, the Snake form, and some partner training methods. Between 2007-2009, for a full two years, I learned everything he could pour into me!
Li Tao (1943 – ) is Liu Wanchuan’s son-in-law, who took care of him for the last half of his life. He has been an invaluable resource as Fan Yaohua and I researched the history of baguazhang. Li has a dignified appearance, imbued with integrity, and the manners of a true gentleman. I have the greatest respect for him. Liu Wanchuan bore extreme skills and followed a great way his whole life. For him, in the last half of his life to have such a son-in-law to take care of him to the end, he was truly blessed. Li Tao lived with Liu Wanchuan for so long, of course he gained transmission of special skills. I have learned many special training methods and theories with him, many things that were hidden from me before suddenly became clear. For example Li taught me the Paochui routine (A power issue routine that is usually for younger people to study due to it being so dynamic) that I had up until then considered lost. He also gave me all of Liu Wanchuan’s materials on baguazhang, including film on Liu Wanchuan training at 82 years old, all of Liu Wanchuan’s photos, his personally handwritten copy and voice recordings of the baguazhang verses, his training diary and notes, tokens given to Liu Wanchuan by Ma Gui, and other materials about baguazhang that he has collected. Such luck!
Li Lianchang (1943 – ) was Liu Wanchuan’s first apprentice. I gained an introduction to him through Li Tao, thus I was able to begin learning from Wanchuan’s first apprentice. I cannot hope to express my gratitude and feelings for teacher Li. I will write more about him in the member’s section in the future. Shown in the picture above: first row, in the middle is Liu Wanchuan. On left is Li Lianchang, and on the right is to Peng Guangzhang. In the back row is Yu Zhiming. I have studied directly from the four that I have written about above. Now I will introduce others who have carried on his teachings.
Peng Guangzheng (c. 1924 – 1999) passed away at the age of 75. He loved martial arts from a young age. He studied many training methods and styles in his hometown in Shandong. When he moved to Beijing and started working in the same factory as Liu Wanchuan, he immediately recognized Liu Wanchuan’s skill and followed his teachings from that time on. Among all the students, he was with Liu Wanchuan the longest and learned the most complete contents of the system. Peng was infatuated with the martial arts his whole life. He was heroic in his respect for his teacher, his friendship, and for his ability to learn and train. For example, there is a story where in his youth he had saved a grappling master from being killed and hide him at his house, because of this generosity the master taught Peng his art. Peng had a serious liver ailment since his youth. Training baguazhang with Liu Wanchuan gave him unexpected good health. My only regret is that he did not live to the ripe old age of 80 or 90. Peng studied baguazhang very thoroughly and completely. I hope that his students and descendents respect his skills, which were hard won over his lifetime, and continue to teach them, passing them on to future generations and spreading baguazhang.
Sun Wuling (1921 – 2001) was a famous baguazhang master. He studied Yin Fu baguazhang from his father Sun Bolin from a very early age. In 1946 he started with Liu Qingfu’s apprentice, Wang Kuisan, also Yin Fu style. In the early 1950s his teacher Wang passed away, so he started studying Cheng style baguazhang with Miao Pei. In the 1960s he went to Beijing to study baguazhang with Li Shao’an and Guo Gumin. Later in the 1970s he went to Haiyang County in Shandong to continue studying with Li Shao’an, who had returned there from Beijing. At that time Li was already almost ninety years old, so suggested that he return to Beijing to study under Liu Wanchuan. In 1981 Sun found Liu Wanchuan in Taoran Pavilion Park in Beijing, and took him as his martial uncle. Over more than ten years he traveled several times a year from his home in the northeast of China to Beijing to train with Liu Wanchuan, staying at his house each time. Sun, already over sixty years old himself, continued to travel to train with Liu Wanchuan for over ten years, until he passed away. His persistence in this path is an example for us all! Sun held the position of chairman of the Jilin city martial arts association. He massed and organized a great deal of valuable material on baguazhang, and wrote about his experiences and thoughts on training. He propagated baguazhang and taught many students. During his lifetime he gave all his energy and savings to baguazhang. His son, Sun Haibo, is now teaching baguazhang in Jilin city, taking on the responsibilities passed to him from his father.
Bi Jie was one of the earliest students to train with Liu Wanchuan. He is tall and strong. I do not know very much about him, but I have received his handwritten notebook with the Baguazhang’s Seven Word Verse dictated by Liu Wanchuan. I also know that he learned the Paochui routine from Liu Wanchuan. He was born in the 1920s, so would now be in his nineties. I hope that he is enjoying a healthy old age, and that he has students who are continuing to practice his teachings and pass them on to others. Shown in the picture above: In the middle of the first row is Liu Wanchuan, on the left is Yu Zhiming, and on the right is Peng Guangzheng. In the back row is Bi Jie.
Li Wenling Looking at Li Wenling, when he was in his sixties, we can only imagine how strong and fierce he was when he met Liu Wanchuan in his thirties! Li Wenling (1947 – ) studied Cheng style baguazhang for many years in his youth with the famous teacher Wang Fusheng. He then taught fighting at the army special services school. He was brave and an excellent fighter of great strength, with no peers in fighting. After Li retired from the army, his teacher Wang had passed away. Li continued his training though, and after gaining an introduction to Liu Wanchuan, started studying with him. At that time Liu Wanchuan was already seventy-six. When Li Wenling just started training with him, he said that Liu lightly touched his body and caused a pain that lasted for half a year. Li said that he had never admitted defeat to anyone in his whole life, but he admitted defeat to Liu Wanchuan. He often said, “No matter how hard anyone in this day and age trains, they will never be able to reach Liu Wanchuan’s level.” Li has a superior moral character, generous conduct, and is a faithful son. He respectfully took care of Liu Wanchuan in his old age. He accompanied Liu in his last training session, his last walk home from the park, and his last breakfast. He is the only student to have asked to be Liu Wanchuan’s apprentice using the traditional ceremony for apprenticeship. The important factor in this is that at that time no one could do such ceremonies. The Cultural Revolution would not allow it. To do this could have gotten him arrested or worse. He is a teacher whom I respect and admire immensely. Because Li started training with Liu Wanchuan fairly late, there are many things that Liu was not able to pass on to him. Fortunately, his martial brother Fan Yaohua was more than willing to share what he knew. I hope that Li will teach more students in the future and help to spread the Ma Gui School of Baguazhang that comes to us through the great teacher Liu Wanchuan. Liu Wanchuan had other apprentices and i will introduce them in the future, in the member’s section, as I gather more information. I cannot express how much I respect all of the ancestors of Baguazhang and the teachers I have had. I have started this site to try to share the wonderful art they have worked so hard though adversity that we can never understand to keep alive. Baguazhang and its teachers have changed my life in ways I cannot express. I would love to write more about all of these wonderful teachers and people that I respect so much. Unfortunately, because this is only the introduction I must limit it. I will write more about them and their incredible lives later though, and put it in the member’s section. So if you have enjoyed what is here and wish to know more, I encourage you to join me in this journey that is Baguazhang.
I love martial arts, and although my body sometimes has to be doing other things, my heart and spirit have always been in the martial arts. In 1982 I started learning baguazhang from Shi Chongying and for ten years studied Ma Weiqi’s School of Baguazhang, Yang taijiquan, and Xingyiquan. From 1986 I studied the Cheng School of Baguazhang from Zhang Rongli.
Then in 1989 I had the greatest luck. I was introduced to Yu Zhiming, and began learning Ma Gui’s School of Baguazhang. I studied with him for seventeen years. Then because of his advanced age, he introduced me to Fan Yahua. I studied with Fan Yahua for two years, learning everything he could show me. Fan then in turn introduced me to Liu Wanchuan’s son-in-law Li Hao. After training with Li Hau for a time, then as before, I was introduced to my next teacher, Liu Wanchuan’s favourite apprentice, Li Lianchang. Since 2009 I have been studying with him.
Because I admire and respect the outstanding character of all of those in the previous generations, and their instructions, I try to follow their example by training hard, and with determination to seek the deepest skill level I can.
Year after year, I have trained baguazhang without daring to take a day off. I have yet to reach the level of the masters before me though. So I continue to train hard with the hope that I can reach their heights and skills, thereby honoring them in the way only a martial artist can.
Baguazhang is a treasure beyond value. Because of this I am faced with the responsibility of passing it on to future generations, to ensure its survival. I admire the masters who all lived long healthy lives and were able to transmit baguazhang to their students. I hope that I can be able to live as long and give to my students, as well as they did to theirs, and spread baguazhang throughout the world.
I have, however, already reached middle age and time is passing. I am worried that I might not be strong enough for this responsibility that I have been given. So I pray to the ancestors and I ask the older generation masters for their help. I ask for all that are on the same path to work together and help me in this wonderful enterprise. Only together can we ensure baguazhang survival. Please join me I know you won’t be disappointed.